Hannah Seligson is the twenty-something author of A Little Bit Married: How to Know When it’s Time to Walk Down the Aisle or out the Door – a new book that examines the rising trend among couples to stay unmarried longer – while still engaging in activities associated with being married – like living together and vacationing with each other’s families.
Here, Ms. Seligson shares the ins and outs of unmarried cohabitation.
What prompted you to write A Little Bit Married? What is your own experience with unmarried cohabitation?
When I graduated from college in 2004 I moved with my boyfriend to New York City. We each had our own career paths – and we didn’t live together, but we spent all of our free time together and vacationed with each other’s families. For all intents and purposes we were a little bit married.
A year and a half into our relationship – at 23 -- he broke up with me – because “we weren’t soul mates.” I told my mom -- “This is too much heartbreak, I don’t want to do this again -- it feels like going through a divorce.” She said, ”That’s because you were a little bit married…” I then started looking around and saw all the research on couples moving in together before marriage, and I thought this was an issue that needed examination.
Do you support living together before marriage as a precautionary move?
What people have claimed – until now – is that living together before marriage hurts your chances of staying together. New data reveals that if you only live with one person before you get married, you have the same chances of divorce as those who don’t. The only population that faces a higher divorce rate is the one that serially lives with other people.
There are a lot of women who still subscribe to the old adage, Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free? Notions against cohabitation need to be challenged. Between 70 and 90% of couples live together before getting married. I think we shouldn’t focus so much on whether it’s right or wrong, but on how to do it better.
When should you not move in with your significant other?
If you’re forcing something, if one person doesn’t want to do it, or if you are doing it to save money, you probably shouldn’t move in together.
Moving in together should be something you both want to do – that you’re both invested in. While you may not know exactly where the relationship is headed (in terms of marriage, etc.), there should be some conversation about why you’re moving in together and what it means.
One of your 9 cohabitation commandments [below] is Thou shalt discuss finances and come up with a budget. Should couples living together handle their finances as if they were married -- rather than like roommates?
It’s very specific to the couple. The bigger thing is discussing the finances. Make sure you have the same values about money. Are you the type of person who will try to cut corners on everything, where your partner isn’t?
Anecdotally I don’t see couples combining finances until they get married – most end up splitting things, but it’s still something to be really aware of. For instance, I go to the grocery store more because I like to – but then I realize I’ve spent all this money on groceries, and I’m like, “You have to pay me back!”
In a recent CNN interview you said, “People want to be fully formed before they get married.” How is this different from 50 years ago?
A caveat -- we’re talking about a very specific piece of the social pie. My grandmother always says that she and my grandfather, whom she married at 16, grew up together. Back then people married their college sweethearts and went through all the milestones of adulthood together. Now people want to be able to stand on their own two feet before getting married. There are huge economics to it too – engagement rings, weddings and houses are all very expensive.
Any parting words?
I think a lot of self-help books make women feel bad about themselves. I don’t want my book to do that. There are so many forces out there (the fashion and beauty industries, among others) that tell women how to mold themselves. But I don’t think there’s only one way to approach relationships. This is a life stage women go through, and my intention with this book is to give women a roadmap.
Hannah Seligson is the author of A Little Bit Married: How to Know When it’s Time to Walk Down the Aisle or out the Door and New Girl on the Job: Advice from the Trenches. She is also a journalist. Her reporting has appeared in publications such as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Forbes.
Hannah Seligson’s 9 cohabitation commandments: